As a teenager, Scott Bradlee developed some shtick as a party trick,
He was studying jazz piano at the time. His friends were into to all sorts of music that was not jazz.
“We were listening to just different stuff, whether it was gangster rap or whatever — Weezer — and I would take these songs and just play them as ragtime,” said Bradlee, wearing a white track suit backstage at 1 Oak Nightclub at the Mirage. “It was like my way of bringing my world, you know the kind of music that I played on piano, into their world, and it was always elicit some kind of response, like “Whoa, that’s pretty cool … like, I recognize this song, but it sounds different.’”
Pretty cool. Recognizable, but different. Bradlee took that formula to YouTube and created an artistic phenomenon, coming to Vegas as “Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox Hideaway.” The production that spins contemporary music in its creative blender has just opened its residency at 1Oak.
The show runs 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays (tickets start at $39.99, minus fees). Matt Goss’s show continues at the club on Sundays.
PMJ, as the act is commonly referred to in shorthand, is a neat fit for Las Vegas, where audiences for live music can be from anywhere, and are typically seeking something familiar and catchy. But it’s a show for a local audience, too, featuring Vegas vocalist Jaclyn McSpadden, late of “Baz” at Palazzo Theater; famed tap-dancer Aaron Turner, a finalist in “So You Think You Can Dance” and son of entertainment great Earl Turner; and Janien Valentine, a top singer for years with Clint Holmes and, currently, Frankie Scinta’s “The Showman” production at South Point Showroom.
But Bradlee has only learned of the strong Vegas connections after casting and rehearsing the show. The local talent only reinforces PMJ’s proven artistic formula.
“This is really the idea of taking a modern-day song and recasting it in a new light, imagining that it was recorded somewhere in what I call the the Golden Age of Vinyl, between the 1920s to 1970’s,” Bradlee said. “We’ll play any of the genres therein, whether it’s taking (Guns N’ Roses) ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ and recasting it as like New Orleans, Bessie Smith-type of blues, or taking Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop,” and making it like a 50’s song with doo-wop vocals. We did Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” as Stevie Wonder would’ve done it.”
Bradlee began this journey a decade ago and only after his career as a jazz pianist in New York City had flat-lined.
“I didn’t think of myself as a professional musician anymore,” he said. “I was ready to pivot to another career and do something different, because the music thing wasn’t working out for me.”
Whimsically, he recorded a YouTube video, to spin “something different” and see where it would go.
“It was a ragtime medley of all these ‘80 songs, like ‘Living on a Prayer,’ ‘Don’t Stop Believing,’ things like that,” he said. “I uploaded it on YouTube, and the next day it got 10,000 views and it went viral.”
Was he surprised by the success of that first video?
“Absolutely. That’s an understatement,” he said, laughing. ” After a week it was maybe 60,000 views, and I’m like, ‘OK, more people watched me do that than have watched me play the piano in my entire life combined, you know, from every audience ever.”
The act advanced further through an unlikely figure: The towering, singing but otherwise silent clown character Puddles Pity Party. Bradlee had been directing music for the New York stage show “Sleep No More,” and was convinced by the show’s producers to record a video with Puddles, who was working as part of the after-show entertainment.
“There’s maybe 50 people in the room, something like that, and you see this giant clown coming up and he’s not saying anything and everyone is kind of creeped out by it,” Bradlee says of Puddles’ first run-through of the song. “He’s in full character. He gives me a crumpled-up sheet of music and it’s like, almost illegible because its so crumpled up.”
Puddles then stood at the mic for what Bradlee remembers as five minutes, totally silent.
“He just stared at the audience and looked scared and, you know, you could cut the tension with a knife,” Bradlee says. “People were like, ‘What is this creepy clown gonna do?’”
Sing! Bradlee finally cued the band to perform his arrangement of Lorde’s “Royals.”
“He starts singing and he’s got this amazing baritone voice,” Bradlee said. “Everybody is like, ‘Whoa!’ I was not expecting that. So I put together an arrangement for that, and I wanted to kind of show off the Tom Jones-esque quality to his voice.”
The PMJ-Puddles “Royals” video has surpassed 26 million views. (Puddles, too, is a Vegas performer, coming back to Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace for a nine-show series beginning next Thursday).
In all, PMJ has amassed more than 1 billion YouTube views with 3.6 million subscribers to its official YouTube channel.
But Bradlee currently is focused on the Vegas residency and filling the 250-or-so seats at 1 Oak. PMJ has recently performed at Mirage in the Terry Fator Theatre for eight inspired shows in November, during which Bradlee said from the stage he wanted a Vegas residency (he also said he was so busy writing that he hadn’t left his hotel room).
Bradlee also led a PMJ doubleheader at Myron’s Cabaret Jazz in August 2017 for a PBS special. That, too, was a dazzling performance performed in a club atmosphere.
The cozier confines and distinctive architecture of 1 Oak allows the performers to spin through the booths, swing under the lights and dance on the bar.
“The first thing that I did when I went though, you know, I was just asking them questions like, “Hey, can we put a singer on the bar, and can they sing from here?’ and they were like, ‘Yep! We have lights for that!’ ” Bradlee said. “Can we have a tap dancer on that cat walk up there? And they’re like, ‘Yep!’ We got up lighting and down lighting!’ I said, ‘OK! Cool!’ “
Horn players on wireless mics, serenading people around the room… It’s all in the plan for Postmodern Jukebox, an act that really knows no bounds.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1on Instagram.